My wife and I have 3 kids. We prefer to feed them home-cooked meals, but there are times when it’s fun and/or convenient to eat out. Here are a few ways that we have learned to save money when eating out – with kids!
Budget for eating out.
This is critical. Folks often underestimate how much they are going to spend on eating out – and run into problems at the end of the month. If you are going to eat out – you gotta budget for it.
Order an entree – and ask for an extra, empty plate.
Instead of ordering from the kids’ menu – which usually has a limited selection – order a regular entree and have two kids share it.
Use a coupon.
Coupons are cool, now, right? Cool or not, they help us save money, even at restaurants.
Some places have “kids eat free” night or have special offers, depending on the time of day you eat. When our kids were smaller, we would eat dinner rather early, and benefited from early-bird specials. (We are totally going to rock as retirees.)
Skip the soda and tea and stick with good old water. It’s healthier and – usually – it’s free.
Do your own thing.
When eating out with other families, it can be tempting to “go with the flow”. Stick to your game plan.
Skip the bun.
If you are looking for a low-carb option and can’t find one on the menu, ask for a burger or grilled chicken sandwich without a bun. In many restaurants, you’ll get your low-carb fix – and they will charge you less than the cost of the regular sandwich. Just ask.
Learn to love the humble side salad.
In many chain-restaurants, the side salad comes in a huge bowl. Elaine would be proud! My kids and I love salad – and we are often full after eating just a side salad.
Do a little combo vs no-combo math.
This one is a bit nerdy, but it’s worth doing, especially if you routinely eat at the same fast food places. Take a few minutes and calculate whether buying the combo is a better deal than not buying the combo. In some circumstance, it’s actually cheaper to order items individually – especially if you are drinking water (and avoiding fries!).
I love sweets, but I have learned to avoid them. I’ve read several articles on the Internet (and if it’s on the Internet, it has to be true…) that it takes several minutes before your brain realizes that your stomach is full. Eat slowly, enjoy each bite, talk to the kids, and allow your brain and stomach to communicate. With kids, it’s important to decide before sitting down whether dessert is an option. (I’m not a fan of using food as “reward” – especially rewarding a “clean plate” with dessert. Food is fuel – awesome tasting fuel – but fuel.)
Check your bill.
Make sure that you are paying for what you actually ordered. This is also a good time to talk real life finances with your kids!
Eating out doesn’t have to break the bank. With just a little planning and smart ordering, we have learned to save money when eating out with our kids – and you can too!